Introductions and preambles: enough already

HTWB introductions 1Have you noticed how introductions and preambles in nonfiction books, sales videos, training manuals etc. are getting so long they take up more words and bandwidth than the actual information itself?

Maybe I’m just getting impatient in my old age, but wading through pages and pages or screens and screens of “tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em” (rather than “tell ’em” followed by “tell ’em what you told ’em”) has started to drive me nuts.

Recently I was asked to read and comment on a 200-page training manual. It was page 54 before we learned anything other than the wonderful things you were going to be able to do once you had completed the course if, that is, you could hang around long enough to start it.

I have lost count of the eBooks I’ve seen that kick-off with several pages of “praise” for the book, which strikes me as a bit ass-about-face: you only see the praise after you have bought and downloaded the damned thing by which time you want to read the content, not be sold to all over again.

Why I really have it in for introductions

A couple of days ago I observed one of these anesthetizing online “videos” which are a new take on the bouncing ball technology of 1920s movie theater singalongs … (see this rather natty 1930s incarnation, here…)

Anyway the contemporary “video” version is far less cute and the content is structured so it’s easily brainwashed to an audience of young chimpanzees recently rescued from the banks of the Congo River. It consists of a voice-over, behind a screen upon which the VO’s words are replicated in writing, in case you’re hard of hearing or there’s heavy traffic rumbling past your office window.

With this particular video needless to say there was a lengthy VO introduction to topic and the expert due to present it, after which the invisible expert himself came on and did the same lengthy introduction all over again. When we eventually got to the subject matter he reeled out little snippets of relatively useless information interspersed every couple of minutes by the “offer” which was a collection of free white papers all about the detailed  subject matter when you took out a subscription to his newsletter.

Although he kept repeating his promise to tell us the answers to his “hook” question in just a minute – in this case four things that happen just before you suffer a terrible medical incident – wait, here’s some more introduction to my offer!

HTWB Introductions 2And once we finally arrived at the four questions by about minute 25 of the video, the answers weren’t the whole answers. You guessed it … they were an introduction  to the answers, the whole of which were to be found only when you got the information pack after subscribing to (and paying for) the offer.  Grrrr.

Self-help book authors, take note

I read a lot of self-help books on a variety of topics. Much as I love them, I’ve noticed that their introductions and preambles are getting longer and longer by the year.

Why? I don’t know, but I’m guessing that it stems from the very real need for authors to sell their work as hard as possible, and maybe that need spills on over into the manuscripts of the books themselves.

But trust me. Once we readers buy a self-help book, read the introduction / preface / foreword / etc., we want to get stuck into some juicy content – not more promises of what is to come.

If we take a leaf out of the fiction book (sorry for the soggy pun) we’re taught that long scene-setting passages, especially at the beginning of a novel, are a major turn-off. Usually the best way to capture novel readers’ hearts and minds is to grab them with some cheek-slapping content from the very first line of chapter one.

Do you not agree that this is a lesson we should apply to nonfiction, as well?

You don’t need to hide your light under a bushel

If you have earned a lot of praise for your book, however, you don’t need to waste it. Rather than clutter the beginning of the book, though, why don’t you consider slotting short clips of your good reviews throughout the book, almost as illustrations? Or, gather them together at the back of the book with your further reading lists, contact information, etc.?

You will be delighted to learn that our very own Lucy McCarraher will soon be starting a new series here on HTWB, on how to write a successful self-help book. Her experience in both fiction and nonfiction will make this into a brilliant series, so bookmark HTWB and stand by for some great tutorials.

And when you’re writing an introduction or preamble – whether to a book, video, live presentation, training course or even an article or blog post – please do me a big favor. KEEP IT SHORT!

Do you think introductions and preambles are getting longer? Does it annoy you? Please share your views.

While you’re here, don’t forget to stop by my Bookshop…books and eBooks to help you write better – and to give to friends and family…

photo credit: Bill Selak via photopin cc
photo credit: geezaweezer via photopin cc

Comments

comments

Thoughts

  1. Hi Suzan,
    I feel exactly the same way. I want to delve into the content immediately. I mean, isn’t the book about the detail of itself? Who needs page after page of that detail? You feel as if you are someone on a first date who, during a conversation, want to say, “Kiss me you fool.” I like that parallel even at the risk of being that fool myself.

    • Hi Gill and thank you for your comment. I think some authors write their introductions as a self-indulgent exercise, almost to justify all that hard work they have put into the main body of the work! And I like your analogy of the first date…LOL.

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